Is church online really church?

Pastor J.D. shares some of his thoughts about doing church online, especially in light of the current coronavirus pandemic.

A glimpse inside this episode:

J.D., most churches are now recording or live-streaming their church services so their people can watch from their homes in light of the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think about that? Is church online really church?

In some ways, you’d like to say yes, in these times, God is recognizing this as us gathering together. But it is not ideal. And this is not church in “many locations.”

  • I’m not onboard with those who say this is another variation of the multi-site movement.
  • I’m also not onboard with saying this is just the future and we need to get on board.

But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

The New Testament is not giving exact, prescriptive tasks very often. Instead, most of the orders it gives are ones of idealistic purity. There are even examples of irregularities in the New Testament itself:

  • Church without elders. It’s clear elsewhere in Scripture that churches do need elders.
  • Women starting missionary churches.
  • If gauze is the best bandage, don’t be shy about using a bandaid.

What about the ordinances? What about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

Instinctively, my first response was “no.” Right now, The Summit Church has not gotten to a point where we’re baptizing or taking the Lord’s Supper. We don’t feel like the length of time has justified going to some of those extreme circumstances. But the longer it goes on, it makes me think there may be a point where we have to figure out non-ideal ways to participate and observe the ordinances.

  • Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch. There wasn’t a church there. It was better for him to be baptized there than not at all.
  • So there may be a case where there’s something temporary that we do.
    • The essential elements of coming to the Lord’s table:
      • Togetherness
      • Introspection
      • Celebration
  • What about an invalid in their home? The Didache talks about that.
  • What about missionaries who take the Lord’s supper together, without any other believers? Obviously that’s not ideal but it is better than nothing as a temporary solution.
  • If someone’s going to say, “Well, it’s Tuesday and I don’t want to wait until the weekend to baptize my friend, I’m going to do it now,” that’s not a good example of utilizing a temporary solution. But in a circumstance like the one we have now, it may make sense to utilize a temporary solution.

Does it have to be bread and wine?

  • There are elements of bread and wine (juice) that are helpful. But if you simply don’t have it, I would say no. And you could take that further — you could say it would be best to crush the grapes yourself to see the symbolism.
  • If you have to get a Ritz cracker and a glass of water, that’s better than nothing.
  • The introspection is most important.
  • In some ways, doing the Lord’s table this way virtually can be more connective than in a room at church with 1500 people. That’s the ideal version, but there may also be a connection online that’s helpful.
  • When it comes to these ordinances, it ought to be done as an entire local church, not certain groups or people or families.


The sponsor for this week’s episode:

For more than 25 years, Portable Church® has helped thousands of churches launch strong and thrive in a mobile setting. They design custom solutions that fit each budget, vision, and venue. Everything you need to launch a mobile church — an inviting worship space, kids ministry areas, welcome spaces, storage cases, etc — all in a system refined to make it fast, easy & fun for the weekly volunteer teams.
Other Sermons